Sidley Austin LLP - The Inside View

This Chicagoan-gone-global has shown that giant rewards can come through being financially cautious.

“2017 was a really successful year for Sidley,” executive committee member Anne Rea tells us. “We surpassed $2 billion in revenue – a new milestone for the firm – and we're continuing to grow in virtually all our offices across the US, Europe and Asia.” So what's the secret behind this success? “We have a diversified range of services,” Rea explains, highlighting the firm's “three prongs” of transactional, litigation and enforcement, and regulatory services. “That diversity helps position us to be successful in any market.”

Of these  prongs,  litigation clout is perhaps what Sidley is best known for: its appellate law practice picks up top Chambers USA marks across the US, while other contentious strengths include general commercial, white-collar, securities, insurance, product liability and IP disputes. Standout areas in its two remaining prongs include financial services regulation, investment funds, corporate/M&A and capital markets securitization work. Unsurprisingly, newbies were attracted to Sidley's “reputation for being great in a number of areas,” but it wasn't just status that sealed the deal for our sources: “You just get a good vibe from the people you speak to here. During the callback I kept waiting for the catch, but it didn't come: you get to work with really decent people at a top global firm.”

Strategy & Future



“We have a different business plan than some firms,” Rea adds. “Some start to grow by narrowing their offering to what is most profitable. We have a long-term vision which is to have the services that meet the full range of our clients' needs.”

“We're pursuing a strategy of smart growth.”

“We're seeing a strong transactional market right now,” saysRea, “and we think the tax legislation in the US is going to drive more transactions in the coming year.” While it's clear that Sidley's focus is on providing an expansive offering, it is at the same time cautious when it comes to growth, as associates revealed: “We're pretty conservative with budgeting and finances, and 'slow and steady' with decision-making – we're pursuing a strategy of smart growth, of growth where it makes sense to expand our footprint.”

Offices



Sidley's ten domestic offices are spread out across the major markets in the US: the majority of the juniors on our list (almost 70% combined) were based in the firm's Chicago HQ and New York office. The DC, LA, Century City and Dallas bases also took on a significant number, while just a handful joined the firm in Palo Alto, Boston, San Francisco and Houston.

Chicago is the “home base” and Sidley has an office building to match its status: “We're right downtown in 'The Loop,' and we're the flagship tenant in the 38-story building, so we all get our own offices.” The firm won't be moving any time soon (“we've renewed our lease for another ten years”) and renovations are currently underway: “The office is pretty good as it is, but we want to keep up and be modern.” Sources were excited to “have the opportunity to look at mock-ups of what the new space will look like, and weigh in on the color schemes and lighting.” New Yorkers were also anticipating a design overhaul: “Right now we're working out of what looks like a traditional corporate law firm setting – no bells or whistles. We're going to redesign it to look more cutting-edge.”

The Work



When it comes to assignment, a more informal system permeates most offices and practices. Sources largely agreed with this interviewee, who told us: “I love the more free-market system, as it allows me to get the work I want. I can fill my time with the things I've chosen as opposed to things that have been chosen for me.” There are some safety nets in place though. In commercial litigation, for example, there are “a couple of partners who serve as junior associate coordinators, and if you're looking for a particular type of case they can help you get staffed on it.” Over in global finance, meanwhile, there's a “pod system, where you're initially allocated four assigning attorneys – a mix of partners and senior associates – who represent a cross-section of the group's work. They're like training wheels – they help you get started, then naturally fall away as you develop a rapport with people.”

Litigators were abundant in this year's cohort. The majority (a quarter of the firm's second and third-year US juniors) were in commercial litigation, where Sidley has a reputation in many industries, including healthcare, financial services and defense. Tasks included “pretty much everything under the sun”: sources oversaw preliminary discovery matters, prepared and attended depositions, and drafted the likes of motions and briefs. Many found that “the days of sitting and doing doc review for hours on end are very few and far between.” One source highlighted that “from the moment I walked in the door, if you showed you were competent and serious about your work, you were treated like a true lawyer and expected to solve problems – not to constantly write memos to file.”

“...a steep learning curve, but it's good for progression.”

On the transactional side, groups like M&A, global finance and investment funds took on a significant number of juniors. M&A sources could do “public company work, private equity, finance – everything under the M&A umbrella.” They told of “negotiating purchase agreements, putting together issues lists, working on ancillary documents and coordinating with opposing counsel.” They also explained that “as you get more senior, you get more exposure to the drafting of main purchase agreements.” Furthermore, associates relayed: “We don't really get staffed on deals by our class year – some firms are strict about allocating tasks for certain year groups, but here we don't do that as much. People are willing to give you responsibility for what you can handle.” As a result, there's “a steep learning curve, but it's good for progression.”

Global finance covers “traditional lending work, acquisition finance, structured finance, securitization and more,” busy associates here informed us. The group often represents “large banks as administrative agents for syndicated financings, or companies as borrowers.” Juniors spent their time on “deal management and making sure things run accordingly,” as well as on drafting ancillary documents and other agreements. “I started drafting primary transaction documents by the middle of my second year!” one exclaimed. To top it off, juniors emphasized that there's “client interaction from day one – there was no hiding us from them.” Investment funds sources revealed that the group's focus is on hedge funds and private equity fund managers. “Weanalyze existing documents with annual regulatory updates in mind, and help draft letters for clients and investor-facing documents.” 

TOP READ: Becoming a media and entertainment specialist is a popular and therefore competitive undertaking. Sidley's media maestros tell us how they broke into the area and explore the trends that are the shaping the work.

Culture



“It's more a hybrid of Type A and Type B traits,” said juniors of Sidley's culture.But what exactly does this apparent oxymoron mean? “We're the lawyer-type to a certain extent – outwardly, we're competitive when representing clients against others – but we're collaborative and helpful to each other, rather than aggressive.” Interviewees gushed that “any Sidley lawyer across the office or country will talk to you and share their wealth of experience.” Others added that this helpful stance made Sidley “more family-friendly – it's not that 'work hard, play hard, Wall Street in the 80s' type firm. People can work hard then go home to their families.”

“It's more a hybrid of Type A and Type B traits.”

As a result, many appreciated that “there's not that sense that you need to go and hang out with people after work all the time – the social side is there, but it isn't invasive.” Those who are interested can attend some lively gatherings: “There are holiday events across the offices that people make an effort to go to. Last year in Chicago we had a really fun black-tie party to celebrate the firm's 150th anniversary. It was great to get dressed up and meet new people.” A variety of social events also take place over the summer, and we heard of activities such as cooking classes, sports games, comedy shows and bar crawls.

On the more 'Type A' side of the spectrum, juniors added that Sidley fosters a culture where “associates are empowered to take on more responsibility and contribute to developing business.” Several sources highlighted that “business development is becoming an increasing focus, even among associates. It's a very competitive world in the BigLaw space, so they want people to think about those opportunities from an early stage.”

Training & Development



An office-specific orientation kicks off proceedings for the first week, and is followed by a three-day program in Chicago “which brings every new associate from across the world together.” After that, practice-specific training begins. Litigators were happy that “they've recently revamped the training to better reflect what you're doing at each stage of your career. Juniors work on motion drafting, while mid-levels start training on arguing motions, and seniors do mock trials.” Transactional associates, meanwhile, attend 'Corporate College.' “We get various presentations on M&A, capital markets, fund formations and tax issues – the whole gamut of transactional work. We also get homework assignments, like filling out a due diligence matrix for a pretend client.”

Associates have reviews twice a year. “It's a formal process, and every matter where we've billed 50 hours or more has to be submitted for review; matters below 50 can be submitted at your discretion.” Once reviewing attorneys have had time to write up their thoughts, juniors “meet with two or three partners to go over their feedback. You have the opportunity to ask questions about anything that was written. It's very helpful.”

Hours & Compensation



Juniors must bill 1,800 hours a year in order to progress to the next year, and 2,000 hours in order to qualify for a bonus. “Almost everyone receives a bonus,” relieved juniors told us across the groups, with those in commercial litigation and global finance especially confident: “You would have to actively avoid doing stuff to not hit the hours.” Bonuses are discretionary and allocated via “an honor system – if you're putting the work in you get what you deserve.” This led some to describe bonuses as “a bit of a black box,” but sources found that “generally if you're exceeding hours, expectations and receiving positive reviews you can expect an above-market amount.”

“People are good about not creating false deadlines.”

On an average day, most sources reported being in the office for around ten hours (usually 9/10am until 7/8pm), but this naturally depended on what was going on with the case or deal. If there's more work to do in the evenings, “most people go home to have dinner with their families” and log back on afterward.The amount of weekend work varied, with those in global finance telling us that they'll work “at least a couple of hours every weekend,” while those in commercial litigation and investment funds did so occasionally when matters required it: “People are good about not creating false deadlines and making you work on weekends for something that doesn't need to be done until the following week.”

Pro Bono



Once associates hit their 1,800-hour advancement requirement, up to 200 hours of pro bono can count toward their bonus threshold. “There are always whispers that you won't get dinged for doing more than that, and they may consider some hours above that when deciding on your bonus.” While most interviewees agreed that Sidley is “very committed to pro bono,” they also flagged that “there's no requirement for you to do it” and some of our transactional sources hadn't done any: “The work just hasn't freed up space.” Litigators had been more consistently involved, however, with one telling us: “I've done 200 hours every year that I've been here. Sometimes more!”

“You can basically take your pick of whatever interests you.”

When it comes to getting staffed on pro bono matters, “there are a few dedicated attorneys who will email us about opportunities and provide trainings.” Sources did praise the variety of matters available, and told us: “You can basically take your pick of whatever interests you, whether that's veterans' cases, insolvency matters, traditional landlord/tenant disputes or immigration issues.” On the transactional side, there is “some interesting corporate-related work,” like micro-finance projects and opportunities “to review commercial contracts for companies in developing countries.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 119,323
  • Average per US attorney: 66.8

Diversity



Many agreed that Sidley's committee on the retention and promotion of women was “a particular strength” and “very active.” The group “holds seminars throughout the year on things like how to handle work-life balance, childcare and going on parental leave.” There's also a reduced work schedule that's “available to all attorneys for family reasons. It's primarily used to help with childcare, but it's also available if you have elderly parents that need looking after or something.” Alongside this, one source added: “Every year since I've been here the new partnership appointments have been 50:50 split between men and women. That's not to say that the partnership itself is near that 50:50 split, but it's getting there and that's important to see.”

Get Hired



“The academics, especially from the schools we recruit, tend to be fairly standard across the board. As a result, it's not as important to me as someone who is enthusiastic and eager, and has done research about our firm. We look for people who seem bright and excited about the law.” Juniors that had been involved in recruitment all agreed that “personality fit” was a priority, but what does that mean? Sources indicated “someone who you click with on a personal level – who can hold a conversation, and you can picture them meeting a client and representing the firm well.” On top of that, “collegiality and friendliness” were a must, as well as someone with “intellectual rigor and a desire to be a lawyer.” 

Anne Rea emphasizes that the focus is on “quality and excellence, but in a way that isn't internally competitive. If you want to deliver that level of service, lawyers need to work together internally in a cohesive and positive way. This is encouraged through our culture.” Juniors advised: “Really just be yourself at interview. Each firm is not for every person – you want to end up where you belong. They can tell you're nervous, just be willing to have a genuine conversation.” Others added: “Keep an open mind. I wound up in a practice group that, if you'd told me three or four years ago I'd be working in, I'd have told you 'no way!' If I hadn't taken assignments that were outside of my comfort zone, I wouldn't have discovered it was a good path for me.”

Interview with executive committee member Anne Rea



Chambers Associate: What highlights from the past year would you want to flag up to student readers interested in your firm?

Anne Rea: 2017 was a really successful year for Sidley. We are number seven in the top 100 law firms (AmLaw 100), and in the past year we surpassed $2 billion in revenue – a new milestone for the firm. We're continuing to grow in virtually all our offices across the US, Europe, and Asia. We also have a very diversified firm – there are three prongs to our practice: transactional, litigation and enforcement, and regulatory. I think that differentiates us from other firms because we have a diversified range of services. Our lawyers can do the classic deals and lawsuits, but can also bring regulatory knowledge to the table and deal with government agencies in a way that clients find very helpful. Overall, we've had a successful financial year, we've continued to grow, and continued to offer our transactional, ligation, and regulatory range.

CA: What's your long-term vision for Sidley?

AR: We have a different business plan than some firms. Some start to grow by narrowing their offering to what is most profitable. We have a long-term vision which is to have the services that meet the full range of our clients' needs. For instance, there's often a regulatory factor to what happens to companies, and we've been able to offer that. In the past year we hired some true regulatory stars, like Tim Muris, the former chair of the FTC in the US, as well as Stephen Cohen, a very senior member of the Securities and Exchange Commission. We made some key government hires in privacy and cyber, such as former National Security Council legal adviser Christopher Fonzone, which is a hugely important area to our clients.

CA: What's the general strategy going forward and what do you hope the firm will look like in the near future?

AR: Over the past few years we have opened a number of offices in both the US and Europe. We started in 2010 with Palo Alto, then Century City in LA – we had an LA office, but opened the one in Century City to address the needs of the private equity sector and the media and entertainment sector. We opened an office in Houston in 2012 and dramatically expanded our offering in Dallas. We expanded our office in Boston last year, and our largest offices in New York, Chicago and DC are also growing. Then, in Europe, we opened an office in Munich to access the private equity resources on the continent more deeply. Looking ahead to 2018, we will be continuing with this progression and adding to growing offices in both the US and outside. We also have six offices in Asia and it's impressive to see what we are doing there. We're committed to our associates, and will remain relevant to lawyers entering the legal market.

CA: What has the firm done and what does it plan to do with respect to the challenging economy and unusual political climate?

AR: I was talking to the chair of our management committee, Larry Barden, about 2017 and what lies ahead for 2018. He said he's never felt more optimistic about future opportunities than he does now. We're seeing a strong transactional market right now, and we think the tax legislation in the US is going to drive more transactions in the coming year. We are also seeing a strong start to the litigation side, and regulatory and enforcement activity. There are economic challenges, but part of our business model is that we have strong transactional and restructuring practices as well as litigation. The diversity helps position us to be successful in any market. 

CA: What would you say is the revenue split between the firm's practices?

AR: Historically we have been evenly balanced, maybe with a little more on the transactional side. In general we tend to be 40% transactional, 40% litigation, and 20% regulatory, roughly.

CA: How would you define the firm's culture or character?

AR: I've been at Sidley since 1984, so I'm very familiar with the culture, and we're very proud of it. We have an approach that focuses on quality and excellence, but we try to do that in a way that isn't internally competitive. We think our clients are looking for multidisciplinary teams who can work seamlessly across offices and practices to provide high-quality services. If you want to deliver that level of service, lawyers need to work together internally in a cohesive and positive way. This is encouraged through our culture. It not only makes Sidley a wonderful place to work, but is an important asset for our ability to differentiate ourselves in the market. We don't have people focusing on 'what's mine' and 'what's yours'. We've developed a culture of collaboration; the entire team is focused on the client and providing excellent service. We promote this through basic messaging from leadership, but also through our compensation structure which is intended to reward collaboration, and disincentivize internal competition. I think our culture is one of our most important assets. You can have the offices, the right geographies, and do everything right, but if your lawyers don't work well together the client won't get the best service.

CA: Any advice or words of wisdom for our student readers as they try to enter the legal profession?

AR: We hear from students that it's a competitive world and they are concerned about future opportunities. I think the future looks bright – we have more talented lawyers entering the market, who have energy, a positive attitude, and a willingness to learn. We're really excited. We have a large class joining us this summer, which is extremely diverse. I think we have more women associates than men this year and I'm thrilled about that. We need to reflect the diversity of the world in which our clients function, and the markets they serve. We have a great group of summer associates starting with us as well as lateral hires from other firms.

Sidley Austin LLP

One South Dearborn,
Chicago,
IL 60603
Website www.sidley.com

787 Seventh Avenue,
New York,
NY 10019

  • Head offices: Chicago, IL; New York, NY
  • Number of domestic offices: 10
  • Number of international offices: 10
  • Worldwide revenue: $2.036 billion
  • Partners (US): 577
  • Associates (US): 808
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contact: Jennifer L Connelly (jlconnelly@sidley.com)
  • Diversity officer: Sally L Olson
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 155
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 168
  • Summer salary 2018:
  • 1Ls: $3,500
  • 2Ls: $3,500
  • Split summers offered? Case by case

Main areas of work



Services: Corporate and finance; employment; international trade; IP and technology; litigation, disputes and investigations; regulatory and government affairs; restructuring; tax
Industries: Agribusiness; energy; financial services; hospitality; insurance; investment funds; life sciences; media and entertainment; real estate; REITs; technology

Firm profile



 Sidley provides a broad range of legal services to meet the needs of our diverse client base. The strategic establishment of our offices in the key corporate and financial centers of the world has enabled us to represent a broad range of clients that includes multinational and domestic corporations, banks, funds and financial institutions. With over 2,000 lawyers in 20 offices around the world, talent and teamwork are central to Sidley’s successful results for clients in all types of legal matters, from complex transactions to ‘bet the company’ litigation to cutting-edge regulatory issues.

Recruitment



Law schools attending for OCIs in 2018:
University of California, Berkeley, School of Law; The University of Chicago Law School; Columbia Law School; DePaul University College of Law; Duke University School of Law; Fordham Law School; Georgetown University Law Center; The George Washington University Law School; Harvard Law School; University of California - Hasting; Howard University School of Law; University of Houston Law Center; University of Illinois College of Law; University of Iowa College of Law; Chicago-Kent College of Law; University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law; Loyola University Chicago; Loyola University — Los Angeles; University of Michigan Law School; University of Minnesota Law School; New York University School of Law; Northwestern University School of Law; University of Notre Dame Law School; University of Pennsylvania Law School; Santa Clara University School of Law; University of Southern California Gould School of Law; Southern Methodist; Stanford Law School; The University of Texas School of Law; University of Virginia School of Law; University of Wisconsin Law School; Yale Law School

Recruitment outside OCIs:
Southeastern Minority Job Fair, Penn Regional Job Fair, On Tour Interview Program, Vanderbilt Job Fair, Bay Area Diversity Career Fair, Cornell Job Fair, Loyola Patent Job Fair, Lavender Law Career Fair, NEBLSA Job Fair, Midwest-California-Georgia Consortium, CCBA Minority Job Fair, BC/BU Job Fair

Summer associate profile:
Sidley seeks candidates who have demonstrated academic success and possess strong leadership and interpersonal qualities. The firm looks for a diverse group of individuals who are motivated by highly sophisticated legal work practiced in a collegial and supportive environment.

Summer program components:
Sidley’s summer associate program is an invaluable window into its practice and firm culture. Participants select projects that interest them and perform legal work under lawyer supervision. An essential component of Sidley’s summer program is the opportunity to learn and develop professional skills. Hands-on training includes detailed reviews of each summer associate’s work product, as well as more formal training programs such as writing seminars, a mock trial and a mock negotiation exercise. Each summer associate is assigned senior associates and partners to provide guidance and each participant receives a formal review at the midpoint of the summer program.

Social media



Recruitment website: sidley.com/careers
Twitter: @SidleyLaw
Facebook: sidleyaustinllpofficial
Linkedin: sidley-austin

This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance (Band 4)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 3)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 4)
    • IT & Outsourcing: Transactions (Band 3)
    • Life Sciences (Band 4)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
    • Media & Entertainment: Transactional (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Antitrust (Band 5)
    • Environment (Band 1)
    • Healthcare (Band 2)
    • Healthcare: Pharmaceutical/Medical Products Regulatory (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property: Litigation (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
    • Telecom, Broadcast & Satellite (Band 2)
    • Antitrust (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Energy & Natural Resources (Band 2)
    • Environment (Band 1)
    • Healthcare (Band 3)
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Reinsurance (Band 1)
    • Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 1)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 5)
    • Labor & Employment: Employee Benefits & Compensation (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 2)
    • Technology & Outsourcing (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
    • Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 4)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 3)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 3)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 5)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 4)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 5)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 4)
    • Latin American Investment (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial Recognised Practitioner
    • Appellate Law (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 4)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 1)
    • Climate Change (Band 2)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
    • Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) Recognised Practitioner
    • Energy: Oil & Gas (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 2)
    • Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 2)
    • Environment (Band 1)
    • ERISA Litigation (Band 2)
    • FCPA (Band 5)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Compliance) (Band 4)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Broker Dealer (Compliance & Enforcement) (Band 1)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Consumer Finance (Compliance & Litigation) (Band 2)
    • Healthcare (Band 3)
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Insurer (Band 3)
    • Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)
    • International Arbitration (Band 2)
    • International Trade: CFIUS Experts Recognised Practitioner
    • International Trade: Customs (Band 1)
    • International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 4)
    • International Trade: Intellectual Property (Section 337) (Band 4)
    • International Trade: Trade Remedies & Trade Policy (Band 1)
    • Investment Funds: Hedge Funds (Band 1)
    • Investment Funds: Registered Funds (Band 4)
    • Leisure & Hospitality (Band 3)
    • Life Sciences (Band 2)
    • Privacy & Data Security (Band 2)
    • Product Liability & Mass Torts (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • REITs (Band 2)
    • Securities: Litigation (Band 3)
    • Securities: Regulation (Band 2)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 3)
    • Transportation: Rail (for Railroads) (Band 1)